A 28-year-old Norridgewock man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for buying 15 guns to trade for drugs when, as a convicted felon, he was prohibited from owning a single firearm.

A federal judge handed down the maximum statutory punishment to Douglas Stebbins Jr. on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, ending a three-year Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives inquiry.

“The sentence reflects the seriousness of the case,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty said Friday.

The case began Jan. 28, 2008, when police in Holden, Mass., arrested Stebbins during a traffic stop for unlawful possession of firearms, according to paperwork filed in U.S. District Court.

He had previously been convicted in Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan of trafficking cocaine and was prohibited from possessing a gun.

During the traffic stop, police found a backpack behind the vehicle’s rear seat. Inside were a Walther .22-caliber pistol and a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber pistol, according to court records.

When police traced the guns, they discovered they had been bought by William C. Wheeler II, 30, of Skowhegan, from a federally licensed gun shop in Solon called Bait, Bolts & Bullets.

Investigators learned that Stebbins gave Wheeler cash to buy the guns for him, so he could then trade the weapons for drugs in Massachusetts, according to court documents.

By reviewing the Solon shop’s records, police determined Wheeler had purchased pistols and revolvers there between October 2007 and January 2008.

They also learned Wheeler bought a pistol for Stebbins at Jim’s Gun Shop in Winslow, according to the prosecution.

Although the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release Friday that Stebbins paid Wheeler to buy 15 guns for him, court documents state that Stebbins admitted to obtaining nine guns.

Wheeler later lied to ATF agents when he told them he sold the guns to Stebbins’ brother and his own father, court records state.

Wheeler also falsely filled out paperwork each time he purchased guns, responding “yes” to a question that asked whether he was the actual buyer and was not acquiring the guns on behalf of someone else.

He later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make a false statement to a federally licensed dealer, unlawfully making a false statement to a federally licensed dealer, and knowingly making a false statement to a federal agent.

He was sentenced in February in U.S. District Court to two years in prison, plus three years of supervised release.

Stebbins pleaded guilty on June 23, 2010, to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Chief Judge John Woodcock Jr. sentenced Stebbins on Thursday to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release.

According to the Bangor Daily News, Woodcock spoke Thursday about Stebbins conspiring with his girlfriend to smuggle Suboxone into the Piscataquis County Jail, where he was held as he awaited sentencing.

Gretchen Gordon of Anson, Stebbins and two others were charged with attempted trafficking in prison contraband, the Bangor Daily News reported.

Stebbins is set to be sentenced on that charge Oct. 24 in Piscataquis County Superior Court. He’s being held at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Erin Rhoda can be contacted at 612-2368 or at: [email protected]